Three years ago, approximately half of all shoppers were knowingly buying organic food, but that figure has now risen to nearly two in three. Taste, health, food safety and environmental concerns are prompting people to choose organic.
So why should suppliers choose certification? Firstly, if they are already processing organic food products and labelling them as such, under EU Regulation 2092/91 they are legally required to be certified by a registered body. Secondly, consumer trust in organic products is paramount. Choosing organic certification with the Soil Association allows suppliers to demonstrate to customers that they have met, and have been inspected against, strict criteria and that the integrity of a product has been checked from farm level upwards. Lastly, it gives them access to an extremely buoyant retail market, which has shown double-digit percentage growth over the last 10 years and 30% growth in 2005 alone.
There are a many myths about the Soil Association and its certification process, which by its very nature, applies restrictions on suppliers.
But if they are able to meet the requirements, they stand to gain greatly from being able to label and sell product as organic. If they have not met the required standard and they are making any organic reference on products - such as 'containing organic flour' - they risk a hefty fine from trading standards.
So what is involved? In essence, the process ensures that product ingredients have absolute integrity, that the processing, baking and storage process does not risk that integrity, and that the product is packed and labelled correctly to enable consumers to make an informed decision.
Application forms, explaining the process to be undertaken, including details of how records will be kept and the product's integrity maintained, must be completed. The Soil Association must also approve any labels attached to products offered for sale.
An inspector checks that all requirements outlined in the association's standards are being met. The following processes must then be put in place:
? Proposed record-keeping: goods in, processing records (including batch codes and volumes) and goods out
? If organic and non-organic products are to be processed, how would they be separated to maintain organic products' integrity? Dedicated storage areas, equipment and utensils must also be outlined
? Staff must be trained to ensure they understand all procedures to be followed when working with organic ingredients
? Pest control and cleaning procedures.
Dedicated equipment to process organic foods is not required to meet the standard. However, separation of organic and non-organic must be demonstrated.
Most organic businesses process their organic batch as the first of the day to enable the separation of tins.
In some cases it is impractical to wash tins or have dedicated tins so the standards state that tins must not contain non-organic residues and that organic dusting flours should be used for both organic and non-organic to protect the organic integrity of the product.
If an inspector identifies areas that do not meet the requirements, a compliance form would be issued and a written explanation of how the issues would be corrected must be provided. This would usually be enough for businesses to be given a licence. It usually takes a maximum of 12 weeks to complete the process, from application to the granting of a licence.
As part of the Soil Association, firms can display the Soil Association symbol, which, independent studies have shown, comes top for consumer confidence.
It is also requested by some retailers. Certification costs cover everything, including adding additional products to licences and providing certificates.
Efficient, robust certification is vital if consumer trust in organic products is to be maintained.
The Soil Association can also provide British Retail Consortium (BRC) inspections for businesses.
The association has a special fee for small businesses and all the processes required to gain certification are straightforward. Its business development team can talk businesses through the application process in much greater detail and help them source ingredients and find a market for their products. n
? The Soil Association, now more than 60 years old, is an environmental charity that promotes the benefits of organic food and is a not-for-profit body that offers robust and professional certification.
=== Organic challenges ===
The certification of organic bakeries throws up some unique challenges. There are issues around use of tins, tin release agents, divider oils and dusting flours. For example:
1. If you use the same tins or prover pockets for organic and non-organic products, you must:
? check them before use for organic products and reject those which have residues of non-organic products
? record how many you reject during these checks and keep the records for inspection
? use organic dusting flours and releasing agents for organic and non-organic products
? use clearly marked baking tins and trays that are dedicated to organic production.
2. Yeast is becoming more available organically, but is still permitted as non-organic, providing that it is not from a genetically modified source or grown on genetically modified substrate. Because of the availability of organic yeast, it is possible that, in 2009, when the EU regulation is reviewed, provision will be made for organic yeast and other micro-organisms. Until this time, the status quo will remain.
3. Usually, fortification of organic products with vitamins, minerals and trace elements is prohibited. However, under the Bread and Flour Regulations (1998) iron, thiamine (Vitamin B1) and nicotinic acid (vitamin B3) in a carrier of calcium sulphate must be added to flour, except wholemeal flour.
=== Organic accreditation and contacts directory ===
l Soil Association, Bristol, 0117 914 2407, [http://www.soilassociation.org/certification]
l Organic Farmers and Growers, Shropshire, 01743 440512, [http://www.organicfarmers.org.uk]
l Organic Food Federation, Norfolk, 01760 720444, [http://www.orgfoodfed.com]
l Organic Trust, Dublin, 00 353 1 853 0271, [http://www.organic-trust.org]
l Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association, Stroud, 01453 759501, [http://www.biodynamic.org.uk]
l Quality Welsh Food Certification, Ceredigion, 01970 636688
l Irish Organic Farmers & Growers Association, Co. Longford, 00 353 043 42495, [http://www.iofga.org]
l Scottish Organic Producers Association, Edinburgh, 0131 335 6606, [http://www.sopa.org.uk]